STATEN ISLAND, NY – Somehow, two species of wild lizards have made Staten Island their home.
A resident of Great Kills posted a photo on Facebook this week of a creature on his windowsill that piqued the curiosity of some and inspired others to dig.
Commented one woman: “[One] ran on my foot today in the garden!
The creature appears to be an Italian wall lizard, identified over the years in parts of Mid-Island and the South Shore as it basks in the sun on fences or walls, according to Advance records.
Staten Island wildlife experts have learned about the species over the past 20 years; he is believed to have been first spotted in the Great Kills community along Greaves Avenue. Since then, they have spread to historic Richmond and other surrounding communities. A woman on Facebook this week claimed to have seen them further south in Tottenville.
Another guessed, “Aww, I came from Italy in someone’s coat pocket in the sixties.”
2ND SPECIES OF LIZARD
It is in fact one of two species of lizards introduced by humans over the last century into the local ecosystem.
In 1942, the eastern lizard began to inhabit the island when Carl Kaufield, then reptile curator at the Staten Island Zoo, released 29 in the Rossville area. At the time, the neighborhood was sparsely populated and had an ecosystem similar to the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey.
In 2014, the Eastern Fence Lizard appeared to be declining in its range and in numbers due at least in part to housing development, while the Italian Wall Lizard appeared to be growing in both categories, Advance records show.
Experts say the presence of the Italian wall lizard may have started with an escaped pet or perhaps a few that were intentionally released for one reason or another. They were also recorded on Long Island and Topeka, Kansas.
A Hofstra University professor recently started a study of the Long Island population, which looked at a small number of lizards that came out of a Garden City pet store in the mid-1960s. The study found, in part, that lizards usually feed on aphids, grasshoppers, caterpillars and snails.
A resident wrote this week under the Facebook post: “Hope they like to eat the spotted lantern.”
Lizards are among the many strange sightings of wildlife in recent years on Staten Island.
Earlier this year, a video submitted to Advance / SILive.com showed a fox stalking a turkey in a residential area on the North Shore of the borough.
In 2019, a man was browsing the woods looking for bait near his Oakwood home when he came across a two-foot-long alligator.
In 2012, a zebra and a Shetland pony were found trotting in the parking lot of a shopping mall and then down Victory Boulevard in Travis.